Aircraft bombs Islamist stronghold in Somalia

An unidentified aircraft bombed an Islamist rebel stronghold in central Somalia on Thursday, witnesses said, but it was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.

United States forces have launched several air strikes inside Somalia in recent months against al-Shabaab insurgents who have been fighting Somalia’s weak, Western-backed interim government and its Ethiopian military allies since the start of last year.

”A plane bombarded the outskirts of our village,” said Hassan Maalim in Goobgudud, 30km south-west of Baidoa, the seat of Somalia’s Parliament. ”The whole earth shook but we don’t know the damage or death it caused. It was flying over us since morning.”

The identity of the aircraft was unclear.

In May, US war planes killed al-Shabaab leader Aden Hashi Ayro, who was said to be al-Qaeda’s top man in the country. That attack took place in Dusamareb, also in central Somalia.

Washington says al-Shabaab has links to al-Qaeda and has provided a safe haven for militants including the bombers of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Somalia-based al-Qaeda operatives were also suspected in a suicide attack on Kenya’s coast in 2002 that killed 15 people at an Israeli-owned beach hotel.

Resident Aden Mohamud said Thursday’s attack appeared aimed at an al-Shabaab column.

”We heard a big crash after something like a plane had roared over us,” he said. ”I think they targeted al-Shabaab because we knew many of their battle-wagons were passing near the place where the plane bombarded.”

Analysts said they feared a backlash from al-Shabaab.

”I would not like to be in Baidoa right now. Last time this happened, we know what happened,” one diplomat said, referring to a wave of insurgent attacks that followed Ayro’s killing.

Having ruled south Somalia for six months in 2006, but then were forced out by allied Ethiopian-Somali troops. The Islamists have regrouped and now control large swathes of the south again, with the exception of Baidoa and the capital, Mogadishu.

Underlining growing insecurity in Mogadishu, the children’s charity SOS said it was closing two schools there and evacuating four teachers detained by Somali security forces during a nearby gun battle on Tuesday.

”The teachers, Kenyans of Somali origin, are severely traumatised,” it said in a statement. ”Both schools will be reopened when the situation is considered safe and our co-workers and students are no longer at risk.”

In a more positive sign, a Jubba Airways plane carrying 120 Somali deportees from Saudi Arabia landed without incident at the city’s international airport on Thursday.

Last month, al-Shabaab fighters threatened to shoot down any aircraft using the coastal airstrip, and fired mortar shells at an African Union military plane that touched down there. The plane from Saudi Arabia was the first to land since then. — Reuters

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